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Developer of  The Room  decries the mobile market's F2P addiction
Developer of The Room decries the mobile market's F2P addiction
May 9, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

"It's fair to say one reason mobile gaming is dying on its arse for developers is because the idea that one billion gamers want to play variations of Candy-Clash-Saga a thousand times is fucking insane. We've got the stats. It's 3 percent at best. So we've nailed that, time to try something else."
-Fireproof Games co-founder Barry Meade interrogates the current state of the mobile game market in a recent editorial published by Polygon.

Combined sales of Fireproof Games' mobile puzzle games The Room and The Room 2 passed 5 million in March, and studio co-founder Barry Meade believes that isn't a fluke -- despite the fact that neither game is free-to-play -- a remarkably popular monetization model for mobile games that seems a bit unstable, given reports that half of all revenue from free-to-play games comes from 0.22 percent of the people who play them.

"This is a statistically insignificant amount of happy gamers and nothing that gives you a basis to make claims about "what people want'," writes Meade. "I think it just as likely that mobile's orgy of casual titles is due to simple bandwagon-ism or, in other words, not knowing what people want."

Meade points to the success of Fireproof Games' single-player puzzle games, as well as the success of trailblazers like Minecraft, as evidence that mobile games don't have to be casual, low-demand experiences that are given away and then monetized with a free-to-play model that relies on disruptive IAP systems.

"Taken as a whole the games industry is making mobile games that nobody cares about available to millions of players for nothing," writes Meade. "Free-to-play producers chime that quality levels are obviously fine, 'If it's making money it's objectively good, see?' Well no, not quite, shit sells by the ton every day."

Meade exhorts mobile developers to build games that provide players with novel, engrossing experiences that they can't get on any other platform, games that define new trends rather than pander to existing ones. His full editorial is worth reading over on Polygon.

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Luke Schneider
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The way the various app stores are set up and presented to players, stagnation in the market is a certainty. I think the stores generally do a good job of featuring decent products, but featuring the same game over and over is the one problem in that (does Clash of Clans really need to be on the New & Noteworthy list for a 10th time?).

The major problem is the lists. The only decent lists that feature new games are the Top New Paid and Top New Free lists on the Google Play Store. And even those lists are not prominent, being far to the right of the more stagnant lists. Apple's lists are so important an entire industry has popped up around manipulating them, and they seem to have no desire to mix things up. On Windows Phone, the first thing you see is Top Free, and paid games are mixed with free ones in the New & Rising list. On Amazon new games have zero chance of being discovered by players. None of the major Amazon lists feature new games in any way.

It's not hard to come up with various ways to feature new quality paid games. But nobody is doing anything to make it happen aside from Google (and it could be featured a lot more prominently). I'm still making paid games despite the obstacles, but I'm also doing a game a month, releasing 4 platforms simultaneously, and still not making as much as I did as a designer at a big studio 5 years ago.

Alan Barton
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@"The major problem is the lists"

Its highly likely these positions in the lists are quietly paid for and companies will pay a lot to hold that kind of position. What you think the positions are fair? :) ... No, unfortunately businesses don't play fair. These deals will be quietly done where few can know the details and they will deny it as long as they can, because their PR team would prefer all of us to believe its only because of the incredible great wonderful quality of their game.

Its not just the games industry that does this. I remember some years ago, back when I was listening to DJ's on the radio a lot, during the same time in the evenings. Back then I thought the DJ's chose the music, to make a fun show. But over time, it became apparent they were playing the same tunes, around the same time, on multiple nights. I later learned my suspicions were right; It turned out they were paid for slots. It was a way to promote new songs into the charts.

The same is true of the games industry. Paid for positioning.

Even supermarkets do business like this. Companies have to pay for shelf space and the better locations costs companies more. For example, a jar of food manufacturer will be told by the supermarkets that the high visibility end of isle of shelves, at hand height, will cost them more than the shelf deep into the isles and on the floor, where few customers reach down to it and their competitors will have the shelves above them and nearer to the customers hands, so more customers are likely to see and reach out to the competitors products, rather than reach down to the floor (which is hard to reach and read for some customers) ... etc..

Its the same business tactic. Its paid for positioning and unfortunately its a very common tactic.

Even though these download sites give the impression of a mostly level playing field, they are most likely not at all level. Its not fair and as Indies, we don't stand a chance of doing business like these hundreds of millions earning corporate companies. But that is just the way it is. Its like a few old sayings, "Beggars can't be Choosers", "Money Talks", "Money is Power".

The corporations buy what they want and what they want is ways to earn more money and with the money and power they have, they get it. Thats life unfortunately.

Also there is almost nothing we can do about it that will work and the corporations know it.

John Flush
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Just this week I got pulling in a discussion about '2048' the new up-and-coming F2P waste of time. I tried it out simply to stay current in the discussions around me. I pointed out some other games I had been playing. The discussion quickly turned to how stupid I was for paying for anything for my phone or tablet as most of my games were paid apps.

I tried to point out games like FTL and the Walking Dead that I know these people would enjoy if they played them. But they refuse to pay anything on Mobile and went back to sliding tiles around. I tried to point out most of these other games are cheap, $1. Isn't a game that you play for 40 hours worth a $1? Nope.

This is the market F2P is selling to. If you are in the F2P market I hope you find a nice fat .22% of the paying people. But just like Luke said, no one building these app markets care about the industry, so good luck finding people that will pay anything for your game.

Dane MacMahon
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Free customer insight:

I wouldn't pay anything for a mobile game simply because they're so temporary. I change carriers or get a new phone a few generations ahead or whatever else and boom, game is gone. On console or PC that is not the case, on phones everything is extremely temporary. I don't want to pay real money for temporary goods.

Robert Green
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I don't want to imply that you're wrong, because that's your opinion and you're perfectly entitled to it, but it does seem very strange to me.
The Room is a great game, but it's a puzzle game with a limited number of puzzles that can only be solved in one way, and as such, it only takes a few hours to finish, and there's little incentive to play again. And the ability to make games like that, which don't need to go on forever, is one of the key advantages of the pay-up-front model.
To say that at some point you might lose access to this game is true, but seems largely irrelevant to me.

Dane MacMahon
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Well I was making a general point, not one exclusive to "The Room" which I likely would never buy in any situation. Just not my kind of game.

There is stuff on mobile I am interested in that I have ignored because of the reasons I stated though. Deus Ex: The Fall is a good example off the top of my head, along with Hitman Go. I replay a lot of games and play classics often, so the idea of paying "real money" for something that limits my ability to do that rubs me the wrong way. Even for people who never actually play older stuff I think that perception is still there, "why pay for something I eventually lose access to?"

Robert Green
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Quick answer? Because in practice that's true of almost everything. Any cassettes or VHS tapes I bought in my younger years are effectively worthless now, along with all the games of the time, regardless of platform. Theoretically, some of the old PC games I still have lying around might work, but most won't, and I don't know which ones because the only reason I've touched any of them in the past few years was to move home.
I get what you're saying, and the fact that I still have a dreamcast lying around is testament to the fact that I don't want to throw away something I paid for that could theoretically still entertain me, but in all honesty I expect that I'll never even plug it in again.

Dane MacMahon
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I'd disagree. 90% or more of the old PC games I'm interested in play just fine on Windows 7. And for those rare ones that do not I could always install Win98 through a virtual OS. Emulators keep console classics going, and emulate DOS and various PC engines. DVDs and Blurays can easily be ripped for backup, and those DRM free digital files should never stop working.

Online games and mobile games are pretty unique in this way, really. At least from my perspective. It's sad to me MMOs won't be preserved nine times out of ten, and it's similarly sad most mobile games will vanish into nothing. I don't want to pay money and invest time in something so temporary, it's an emotional thing as much as a rational one. It's just off-putting.

Also, for a different answer, the simple fact is most people play mobile games out of a lack of anything else to do. Waiting in an office, sitting on the bus, etc. They want those games to be super cheap and disposable, because they're not really there for much more than that.

Again, just my customer feedback.

John Owens
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But you do pay money for F2P so that argument doesn't stand unless you're basically saying that because mobile games will become redundant when you change device then they're worthless which quite frankly is a bit of an extreme position.

Dane MacMahon
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Well I don't know what's an "extreme position" or not. All I can tell you is that the lack of longevity plays into my purchasing decision. The question isn't about one game, so it's not about $5. If I routinely bought cool looking mobile games I would be spending hundreds, all on games that might not last more than a couple years. Turns me off.

It's only one factor though. As I also said, the fact I only ever play mobile games when bored in public is also a factor.

Jeff Leigh
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"Player"... "Customer"

Not really the same thing. Seems strange game devs seem to confuse the two.

Dave Hoskins
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They are if you're using the psychology of gambling websites.
I see F2P games as simply demos, as there are no other methods to try before buying.
Many people just won't buy something on speculation alone.

Tuomas Pirinen
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This was a great read, but the headline here is perhaps a bit misleading. Quote from the actual article:

"The free-to-play model itself serves a million uses to developers and gamers, I’ve chucked lots of time and money into World of Tanks, Warhammer Quest and many others myself — the model is not the problem."

Meade seems to me to be after creative, innovative games, regardless of the business model. And I agree. Quality must come first.

Un Subject
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The Polygon article mentioned they got features on the Apple store. That probably helped a lot in terms of their game's success.

Maurício Gomes
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Those people are... wrong.

They think because they managed to have success everyone would be like them. Well, my company make non F2P games, and it is NOT working out.

First, there is a confusion about players, and costumers, yes, only 0.22% of PLAYERS spend money in F2P games, and on my own company only 2% of our PLAYERS (we offer demo versions) are buyers, our demo versions have very high attachment rate (about 60%) after one month, meaning that PLAYERS are content in playing for free, even if just a demo.

Now COSTUMERS, people that are willing to PAY for things, be it in a F2P or non-F2P game, are not much.

So we have numbers like mine (almost a million downloads, but paid downloads in a month don't pay the wage of a single developer in the company)

John Owens
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Sorry to hear that Mauricio.

Unfortunately there's a lot of rubbish spouted by people who think every developer should at least give a demo or at worse provide the whole game and only make money from donations. Most are players or journalists that don't have to make a living from selling games.

The truth is that demos and F2P doesn't work because with the amount of free content out there most people are satisfied with that without having to pay. Unfortunately it's that simple.

Charles Forbin
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The Room games ate my brain. Just keep making more. I'll be there.

William Ravaine
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Thanks for a good read. The Room games are brilliant btw, I think you're really underselling them for the kind of quality experience you provide. I'd gladly buy more of them at $5 a pop on mobile.

Wes Jurica
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I think the premium vs F2P issue comes down to target audience. I would guess that the people buying games like FTL and The Room are not the same ones spending hundreds of hours on Candy Crush. If you are making a match 3 or slidy number game, your best bet for monetization is probably F2P as Threes vs 2048 shows.

Ian Griffiths
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If freemium is ruining the industry then why has it been growing both as a share of and the market itself? I constantly hear that F2P is killing the industry yet here it stands, bigger than ever. Can a paid title do well? Of course. Are paid mobile studio start-ups behind $7Bn IPOs? No. A game making $5 million over a couple of years does not impress me over one making $2 million a day and still growing.

To say that someone that pays is inherently a more happy than one who doesn't is false – would we consider most of Google or Facebook’s customers unhappy because they don’t pay for their premium services? I think not.

One last thing - as a gamer I prefer Candy Crush Saga to the Room. I only played the demo of the room but I got a lot more enjoyment out of an innovative Match 3 game than I did out of linear puzzle title and I spent the same on both of them $0. The are a lot of poor quality titles on mobile but is that a problem if people are enjoying them?

Ian Brown
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I don't know if it's worth mentioning this, but I went to a talk by Fireproof a year or so back. They said that their entire strategy making The Room was to get featured by Apple. They pressed and phoned and researched what Apple were looking for, and made a game that hit those targets.

Don't get me wrong, they hit them well, it's a gorgeous looking game that makes innovative use of the touchscreen and gyro in an exemplary "This is why I bought an iPad" experience. It's also just 2 hours long.

But if they hadn't actually been featured, and for weeks at a time, they would probably not be here now.

Michael Levine
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Thank you for saying that so I dont need to. (: I would LOVE to see what this guy is saying if, he didnt get GAME OF THE YEAR by Apple. People need to realize this.

Curtiss Murphy
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This article makes me sad. The room is unique, beautiful, and polished. It's a "This is why I bought an iOS" experience and yet still only earned $5.5M, total, after repeated features, including Game Of The Year. And, unfortunately, their experiences matches my own. My own experiments show that the same product as free vs up-front can easily garner 100x the user base.